Manpreet Singh: Only target is to play as a unit

That is the most important thing in any team sport and that is my only target, says India captain Manpreet Singh in an interview ahead of the hockey World Cup 2018.

Manpreet Singh (centre) says playing at home is a big advantage for the team, and many of its members have played in Bhubaneswar a lot in the last few years.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Captain Manpreet Singh has a simple game plan — to ensure that each member of the national team plays for each other. On the personal front, he is ready to fight it out on the field come what may. Ahead of the World Cup, he spoke about the lessons learnt from the Asian Champions Trophy, making the transition from the junior squad to the seniors and how he has matured as a player.

What lessons did the team learn from the Asian Champions Trophy?

There were quite a few, actually, but more in terms of realising what we did wrong than any actual lessons learnt. A lot of things we have been doing right in training and even in the Asian Games, it was just a few minutes in one game that cost us heavily. We learnt from that and tried to avoid those errors from the Asian Games in the ACT, like the semifinal against Malaysia.

We decided that the ACT and the World Cup were important tournaments ahead of us and we had to do well in these events. The aim was to keep the ball, play more attacking hockey and also try and not give the opponent too many chances in our own circle. It worked and, more importantly, we were better in our defence, too. We did not concede penalty corners and kept the opposition away. That is something we plan to continue doing.

Winning the World Cup is a dream for every team, but it is also important to be realistic. How do you see the World Cup in terms of targets for the team, the players and yourself?

We are not looking at the final or the semifinal or any particular game or opponent. Every game is important; every opponent is dangerous. We plan to go match by match and the only target is to give our best every time we step out on the field. It is important to keep our concentration and focus all the time and not get carried away or complacent or anything of that sort. It is easy to lose focus when in the middle of such a big tournament, but the challenge is to make sure that doesn’t happen. Playing at home is a big advantage for us, and many of us, including me, have played in Bhubaneswar a lot in the last few years. It’s a place we like to play, the crowds are always encouraging and it helps us give more than 100 per cent. I personally enjoy playing there a lot; it has been a happy ground for us and I hope that we continue doing well there.

You led the team at the junior World Cup in 2013 when India hosted and will be leading the side once again as a senior now. How do you see and rate the changes?

Things have changed a lot, but it’s been for the good. That was the beginning of my career and I was leading the side, but it was a disappointing outing for us as a team. I still believe we had a very good team, very good players, but it did not work out the way we wanted. Since then, however, I have grown both as a player and as a person, learnt a lot of things from everyone — coaches, seniors, teammates. I have been in camps with players like Sardar Singh and [P. R.] Sreejesh, who are legends of the game and I have been lucky to learn from them both on and off the field. The game has changed a lot, too, the players have changed, but the team has gotten better. The step up from junior to senior is not easy and I am lucky to have made that climb and managed to be part of the national set-up. Even now, I keep learning something new all the time, I have someone like Sreejesh to go to for discussions. It has been a good five years with the national side.

What is your target for yourself from this World Cup?

I like to keep things simple and the target for me is also very clear — go out there, give my best for the team and make sure everyone plays as a unit. That is the most important thing in any team sport — if you play as a unit and play for each other, the team will be successful. That is my only target, to ensure everyone plays as a team and for the team, take everyone along in every decision and at every step and make sure we do our best for India. Personally, I am ready to fight it out on the field come what may — even if I have to play with a broken, bruised body and put myself on the line, I am willing to do it for the team. The World Cup is our dream and I will do anything for it.